By Bill Scott –
PARIS — Roger Federer came back from two sets to love down for the seventh time in his career as Novak Djokovic kept his Grand Slam dream alive on a drizzly day of clay drama at the French Open on Tuesday.
The two will now meet in the semifinals.
Federer rallied to beat Argentine Juan Del Potro 3-6, 6-7 (4-7), 6-2, 6-0, 6-3 to reach the semi-finals, his 31st, equaling the Grand Slam record of Jimmy Connors. The 30-year-old Swiss, who won Paris in 2009, was also playing in his 32nd consecutive Grand Slam quarter-final.
The comeback from the depths was the first for 16-time Grand Slam winner Federer since his first round against Alejandro Falla at Wimbledon in 2010.
Djokovic, bidding for history by winning four consecutive Grand Slam titles, saved four match points in an heroic effort against home crowd hero Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, grinding out a four-hour-plus epic win 6-1, 5-7, 5-7, 7-6 (8-6), 6-1.
Djokovic swept the first set against the fifth seed in 23 minutes but got into danger by losing the next two as the Frenchman rode the wave of inspiration from his home crowd.
Djokovic stayed alive as he saved Tsonga match-winners in the tenth game of the fourth set to and again in the 12th game with a forehand out from Tsogna and a winning smash that set up the ensuing tiebreaker.
With his mental energies spent, Tsonga was unable to threaten in the fifth as his hopes drained away, with Djokovic earning his straight 25th win over a Frenchman.
“There is no explanation, I’m just going for the shots,” said Djokovic. “I’m glad I was aggressive in these moments and it paid back for me.
“This level of tennis is very mental, you know, lots of emotions. If you’re playing top player and home favorite and you have a crowd that is supporting him incredibly so, you have to face all these things.”
In a much criticized move, the French federation scheduled both of the heavyweight duels on different courts starting at exactly the same time.
As they progressed in tandem, both Federer and Tsonga produced match points at almost the same time somewhere past the three hours mark, Federer winning his and Tsonga missing on four of his own against Djokovic.
Del Potro has been troubled by knee pain and wore his usual heavy strapping with a doctor called twice to the court to give tablets to the player.
“I knew it was going to be a tricky match, I knew that margins were not on my side anymore,” said Federer. “That’s where I just tried to keep playing tough, make him understand how far he still had to go as well, because I had a very long way.
“I was able to do all of those things, and I was very happy the way I played, starting the third set.”
After losing the second set with 15 errors, Federer started his fight back, taking a 4-0 lead and winning his first set (the third) to get back into contention.
“You just try to push further, it’s not easy, you know. But at the same time you are happy it’s a Grand Slam, because any other tournament I would have been out of the tournament.
“The road to victory is much longer and it’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon. I’m happy I came through.”
Federer dominated the fourth to love in 23 minutes and kept the pressure high on his flagging opponent in the fifth to set up match points with his seventh ace and earn the win on his second chance.
Federer finished in three and a quarter hours with 59 winners and 43 unforced errors, breaking del Potro eight times in 14 chances.
In the women’s quarters, Sara Errani won her first match after 28 losses against top 10 opponents with a 6-3, 7-6 (7-2) defeat of German Angelique Kerber.
The Italian next meets sixth seed Samantha Stosur, who booked her spot with a 6-4, 6-1 defeat of Slovak pocket rocket Dominika Cibulkova.
Stosur will be playing in her third semifinal at Roland Garros. The 28-year-old has not lost in five matches against Errani, including their latest played in Rome less than a month ago.
Stosur made the Paris final in 2010, losing to another Italian, Francesca Schiavone.
“I woke up feeling good this morning and had a good warm-up,” said Stosur. “I guess that just transferred onto the match court, I really did what I wanted to do quite well.”
Errani, with three clay singles titles in 2012, was pleased to advance. “I’m very happy for how I played, I’m very happy for the fight,” said Errani. “I want to fight every match, every point. I feel I’m doing the maximum every time.”